8 April 2009

Nigeria: The Problem of Elections in Country


The announcement by the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu that preparations for the 20ll general elections would start in May this year, offers us another unique opportunity to appraise the problems confronting elections in the country.

This exercise has become necessary since it is generally agreed that the problem of organizing and conducting credible elections in Nigeria is essentially at the heart of the failure of the project of democracy in the country.

From the benefit of hindsight, elections in the country have often been characterized by irregularities and fraudulent activities in which electoral competition amongst political parties or candidates take the shape of a Hobbesian struggle, that is, the war of everyman/woman against everyman/woman. We are often told that this state of affairs exists in the first place due to the tendency of political office holders to use state power as a means of primitive accumulation of our collective national wealth and resources. The implication is that if we are able to produce politicians whose main reason for venturing into politics is to render service to the people, we would have covered an appreciable mileage in our individual and collective efforts at conducting credible elections in the country.

Ironically, much of our electoral woes and failures have been blamed on successive electoral bodies, and specifically on whoever heads that body at any given time. This creates a situation where we tend to chase shadows instead of the reality in respect of our electoral problems. However, in an attempt to locate the sources of our electoral problems, we shall embark on perfunctory comparisons of the outcome of the 2003 general elections conducted by Prof. Abel Guobadia, and that of 2007 midwifed by Prof. Maurice Iwu. And in order to arrive at unbiased conclusions, we shall be strictly guided by the results declared by the two electoral umpires in the gubernatorial elections held in Anambra in 2003 and Edo in 2007, and the judicial interpretations attached to each of the results.

In 2003, INEC declared Dr. Chris Ngige, who ran on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), winner of the gubernatorial election in Anambra State. His closest rival, Mr. Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), challenged the result of the polls at the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal that sat in Awka, the Anambra State capital. And through a combination of forensic and oral evidence, the tribunal found out that Goubadia's INEC discarded the results obtained from the polling booths throughout the state, and instead, used concocted results to declare Ngige winner of the polls. The tribunal subsequently declared Obi, rather than Ngige, winner of that election. The Court of Appeal that sat in Enugu equally upheld the ruling of the lower tribunal in this case. It is interesting to note that Guobadia, rather than Iwu, organized and conducted the 2003 general elections.

A similar scenario played itself out in Edo State during the 2007 general elections conducted by Iwu. In the case of the April l4 gubernatorial election in the state, INEC, according to the findings of the Gubernatorial Election Petitions Tribunal, used spurious results to declare Prof. Oserhemein Osunbor winner of the polls, without recourse to the polling booth results as contained in form EC8A. As a result of this glaring electoral fraud, the tribunal proceeded to declare Adams Oshiomhole, the gubernatorial candidate of Action Congress (AC), winner of the election. Again, the Appeal Court that sat in Benin upheld the ruling of the lower tribunal, paving way for Oshiomhole to be sworn-in as governor of Edo state. If as we have tried to show that two separate elections conducted by two different electoral umpires produced similar results, then something must be terribly wrong with the electoral culture and system, and not with individual umpires as some Nigerians would want us to believe in the case of Iwu's INEC.

Perhaps, we need to go the extra mile to compare and contrast the 2007 general elections conducted by Iwu's INEC in Plateau, Lagos, Bauchi and Abia states, with the local government elections conducted by the respective state independent electoral commissions as further clarification of the points being made in this essay. The essence is to find out whether the head of an electoral umpire can single handedly determine the outcome of elections. While, for instance, the PDP won in Plateau, it lost the gubernatorial and local council races in Lagos, Bauchi and Abia states. And whereas the AC cleared the votes in Lagos, it performed woefully in both elections in Plateau, Bauchi and Abia states. The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) came tops in both elections in Bauchi, while it lost in Plateau, Lagos and Abia. And while the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) won in Abia in the two sets of elections, it failed to pull the political strings in Plateau, Bauchi and Lagos states. Though the two sets of elections were conducted by two different electoral bodies, they were, however, greeted by similar complaints of violence, non-availability of electoral materials and vote rigging, from critics. What this suggests, and very clearly too, is that the electoral umpire is not the determinant factor in electoral contests but the various systemic variables in the electoral process.

In fact, nothing confirms or illustrates this statement better than the similarity of media reports during and after the 2003 and 2007 general elections. A cursory look at the newspapers and magazines show gory reports of violence, shortage and/or non-availability of electoral materials, late commencement of voting, snatching/stuffing of ballot boxes, etc, as characteristics of both the 2003 and 2007 elections. Though the media in several editorials and commentaries took Guobadia to the cleaners for superintending what it described then as the worst elections in the country, it nevertheless, excoriated politicians and political parties for largely contributing to the distasteful and disastrous outcome of the general elections. Today, the same position taken by the media in the 2003 general election is still being replicated in the case of the 2007 general elections. Unfortunately, while the media held the politicians, rather than Goubadia, largely responsible for the mess that was the 2003 elections, Iwu is now the villain for the atrocities committed in 2007 while the politicians are saints.

Of course, the media was not alone in describing both the 2003 and 2007 general elections as abysmal failures. Indeed, the civil society ,including trade unions, student organizations, and other forms of democratic organisations, had very unkind words for the helmsmen of both the 2003 and 2007 general elections, and the processes leading to the election of the political actors in the two dispensations. In fact, the civil society itemized the lapses in the elections of 2003 and 2007 to include violence, vote rigging, etc. In the same vein, the local and international monitoring groups described the two separate general elections as anything but a sham. The groups frowned at the incidents of violence, vote rigging, late arrival or non-arrival of electoral materials, etc, that characterized the two separate polls. If the civil society is correct in its assessment of the 2003 and 2007 elections, why is Iwu being made the scapegoat of the problems of elections in Nigeria?

No doubt, the electoral process in the country faces many administrative and political problems such that have challenged meaningful, open and democratic elections in the country. Among the most serious and blatant cases of electoral fraud are rigging, destruction or disappearance of ballot boxes, doctoring of results, lack of discipline in the form, spirit and implementation of the electoral process, excessive monetization of politics, and the general level of poverty and illiteracy. Unless these vices which are embedded in the electoral culture of the country are effectively addressed, it would be impossible to conduct free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria in the years ahead. It is for this reason and/or development that we will continue to quarrel with all those who blame only Iwu for the alleged messy outcome of the 2007 general election.

Dr. Ahmed wrote in from Kaduna.

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